Tag Archives: Clint Eastwood

Nomadland

22 Feb

‘Nomadland’: Traveling stoically from job to job, and sometimes it’s cold and the van breaks down

By Tom MeekThursday, February 18, 2021

The films of Chloé Zhao, a short list that is certain to grow, are something else – a unique blend of narrative fiction and docudrama reenactments in which real folks play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves, if not just themselves. This kind of filmmaking went disastrously off track for Clint Eastwood in 2018 when he cast the U.S. tourists who thwarted a terrorist attack on a French train as themselves in “The 15:17 to Paris.” Neat idea, but the result was inert, nearly unwatchable. And yes, Jackie Robinson played himself in “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950), but Zhao in her somber wonderment “The Rider” (2018) cast Brady Jandreau as Brady Blackburn, a horse trainer from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota who, because of a giant scar across of his noggin, is told he can’t ride a horse for fear he’ll take another toss and die. Guess what? Jandreau really has that scar and lived that life that Zhao recreates from the inside out, and that’s the allure of Zhao’s craftsmanship; she’s able to capture that, from the union between man and land to the quiet, tumultuous struggles within.

Here Zhao has added to her stock, inserting a Hollywood A-lister into the mix of regular folk. Frances McDormand, however, is not your typical A-lister, ever amiable and humble in comport, but she is top tier – of that we need to be clear, lest you want to have a backyard scrap. Sporting short cropped hair, McDormand plays Fern, a semi-recently single middle-aged woman cruising the northern plains, bouncing from one seasonal McJob to the next, cleaning toilets at a Badlands glamping site and slinging grub at a rustic lodge-type resort. It ain’t pretty, but Fern seems resigned and dutiful in her tasks. It’s a way of life that affords her freedom – I half expected The Who’s “Going Mobile” to cue up, but there are times Fern comes out from a night in her comfortably worn van wrapped in three layers of blanket and the chill is bone-rattlingly real. And then that aging van dies on her.

That’s about as complicated as “Nomadland” gets. It’s not about a grand crisis du jour, but the tao of our motorized, nomadic workers and their community. The film, like the Jessica Bruder nonfiction book it’s based on, subtitled “Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” is a meander through meanderers who were ostensibly downsized or tossed out of the ivory tower during the 2008 financial meltdown and either couldn’t find their way back or didn’t want to.

For her cast, Zhao does what she did in “The Rider”: Linda, a seasoned nomad with a thick, lustrous silver mane, is played by Linda May; and Swankie, another big-personality road warrior whom we learn has eight months to live, is played by Swankie. You get the idea. The acting by some is great at turns, but it’s not always consistent, and you realize just what you have in someone as good and capable as McDormand (she, the film and Zhao and will continue to reap accolades; the film was part of the Day’s Top 10 Films of 2020 and it won the Boston Society of Film Critics’ Best Picture and Best Director honors). We do get a beat deeper in on Fern when she stops by her sister’s house for a visit. They live very different lives, and in that short stop we learn all we need to know about Fern and where she’s going. Fern is a lonely soul, and it’s something she embraces. David Strathairn drops in as a campground worker named, well, uhmm, Dave who takes a liking to Fern – their online profiles, should they ever get back on the grid, would be a 100 percent match – but Fern holds him at bay. “I have to do laundry,” she says to a holiday invite.

The real star of the film is the Badlands and plains, so alluring and grand and framed so by cinematographer Joshua James Richards, who collaborated with Zhao on “The Rider.” How “Nomadland” ends isn’t really the point; it’s about the journey and disconnected people connecting, finding solidarity in their transient way of existence. 

Richard Jewell

14 Dec

‘Richard Jewell’: Stopping ’96 Olympics bomb put do-gooder in the crosshairs of FBI, media

By Tom Meek

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In talking with a friend about “Two Popes,” the excellently acted and well-shot papal bore-fest, one point that came up about films dealing with “true events” was that flawed characters and quirky happenings on the fringe often made for a more compelling narrative. Take “Sully” (2016) or “I, Tonya” (2017). The former did an end run around on Miracle on the Hudson pilot Chesley Sullenberger, chronicling the hero’s personal hell while being investigated and under suspicion by the Federal Aviation Administration, while the latter peeled back the mask of villainy on the scorned figure skater for her husband’s misguided hit on a publicly adored rival.

Clint Eastwood directed “Sully” and Paul Walter Hauser played one of the goons who took a lead pipe to Nancy Kerrigan’s knee in “I, Tonya,” so it’s fitting that the two pair up for “Richard Jewell,” about the surreal ordeal surrounding the portly security guard of the title, once under investigation for a bombing in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Nicely, the story bookends with the relationship between Jewell (Hauser) and Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), a snippy, dismissive lapdog of an attorney. It’s at his law firm that we first meet Jewell as a mail delivery clerk, before he moves on to pursuing his dream of being a law enforcement officer and ends up at Centennial Park.

Up to the bombing – which comes midway through – the character illustration of Jewell is quite something. Sure he’s got the countenance of a rube, lives at home with mom (Kathy Bates, perfectly understated) and has buddies with mullets who look like white supremacists, but his expressed desire to serve and protect comes off as genuine. It’s hard to fault a man with ambitions – that is, until you learn that as a college campus security officer, Jewell’s something of an overreaching megalomaniac, pulling over students on the highway outside campus when suspected of drinking and driving and barging in for dorm room searches. At once, you pity Jewell and see the seeds of George Zimmerman. Continue reading

Of all things Kurosawa

20 Nov

Brattle’s full week of ‘Kurosawa in History’ shows how West was won by East’s auteur

 

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One thing I dislike when reading about film: reviews or other critical pieces infused with the word “I.” It’s not about you, it’s about the art, and letting your words about the art convert that “I.”

That said, here “I” go – and I promise to get to Akira Kurosawa, but indulge me for a moment.

Growing up, I wasn’t really that big a film fan. Granted we had only three channels the aerial could catch, and living in a town of 3,000 you had to drive two towns away to find our single-screen theaters, which didn’t get “Star Wars” until six months after its opening. (One was just an auditorium in a town hall.) So for me as a kid, film was mostly John Wayne and Godzilla, and while I couldn’t get enough of the man in the rubber suit, I didn’t like the former much – he seemed phony and too righteous, when the world around me was a darker, less black and white place. You knew things didn’t get resolved by some beefy human with a twangy drawl riding in at high noon, guns blazing.  

The one other movie during this era that grabbed me was “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). Not only was Clint Eastwood’s no-name badass cool and scruffily handsome, he answered Wayne with moral ambiguity; in those spaghetti westerns the good and the righteous often got their asses kicked, hard. Even with its quirk and dark, tongue-in-cheek humor, Sergio Leone’s cornerstone western felt genuine, authentic from the top down the first time I saw it – and it still does today, hundreds of screenings later. (Though over time there would become many Wayne films I would came to adore – “The Shootist,” “Stagecoach,” perhaps mostly “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.”)

Flash forward to college. As part of my English major at a small liberal arts school, film was on my eclectic list of elective, dubbed “clapping for credit” and quite popular with athletes (I’ll let you all guess my two sports) because the professor, a man named Roger Farrand used to lecture us for a scant half-hour, then roll film; by the time the lights came up, there was maybe five to 10 people remaining of the 30-plus people enrolled. He loved film so much and was so excited by it that if you paid attention during his preamble you could walk out and still safely get a B – he told you everything you needed to know for a quiz or paper. Continue reading